Time to hand out the 5th edition of the Fang’s Bites NFL TV Awards. On Christmas Day, I provided the list of nominees for this year’s edition. Now, with the regular season over, let’s hand out the hardware for the 2011-12 campaign.
Best Play-by-Play: The Nominees are Marv Albert, CBS; Ian Eagle, CBS; Al Michaels, NBC; Brad Nessler, NFL Network; Sam Rosen, Fox; and Mike Tirico, ESPN. The winner is Marv Albert, CBS. After leaving Westwood One Radio in 2010, Marv returned to the NFL almost a year later to the day and made it a triumphant one. Teamed with Rich Gannon, Marv joined an already deep bench at CBS Sports and made its corps even better. Usually assigned to the 4th best game of the day, Marv can make it sound exciting. Already one of the best ever broadcasters in basketball, Marv has shown that he still has it in football as well. Here’s hoping Marv gets some better games next season.
Best Game Analyst: The Nominees are Brian Billick, Fox; Cris Collinsworth, NBC; Dan Fouts, CBS; Mike Mayock, NFL Network; and Phil Simms, CBS. And the winner is Mike Mayock, NFL Network. He won Best Game Analyst in the 2010 College Football TV Awards and now, becomes the first person to win the award in the same category for two different awards. Mayock should have been appointed as the Thursday Night Football analyst after Cris Collinsworth left, but NFL Network went in a bad direction for the previous two seasons. Mike spots trends, is able to first guess rather than second guess and makes what had been a total train wreck in 2009 & 2010, a totally enjoyable listen.
Best Sunday Morning Pre-Game Show: The Nominees are Fox NFL Sunday, Fox; NFL GameDay Morning, NFL Network; and The NFL Today, CBS. This year’s winner is The NFL Today on CBS. Hosted by the great James Brown, the NFL Today may be ratings-challenged in comparison to Fox NFL Sunday, but it’s not due to the quality of the show. Yes, there are silly gimmicks like promotional crossovers for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show or the horrible Halloween abortion fronted by Kris Jenkins, but when the show goes into football with Bill Cowher or breaking down quarterback play with Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason, or having Charley Casserley discuss league issues, it’s very good. And it’s why I’ll name The NFL Today as Best Sunday Morning Pre-Game Show.
Best Studio Show, Daily or Weekly: Our nominees in this category are Inside the NFL, Showtime; NFL Live, ESPN; NFL Matchup, ESPN; NFL Total Access, NFL Network; and Playbook, NFL Network. The deserving winner is NFL Matchup, ESPN. This show was in danger of falling by the wayside after the 2009 season, but after getting a sponsor and ownership of the show squared away, the show returned to ESPN’s Sunday morning lineup and fans were the better for it. With Sal Paolantonio hosting and Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge, the show breaks down plays and film like no other.
Best Highlights: The Nominees are NFL GameDay Final, NFL Network; NFL Primetime, ESPN; and SportsCenter 7:30 p.m. Sunday, ESPN. And our winner here is NFL GameDay Final on NFL Network. While the NFL TV partners have to buy access to highlights for a price, NFL Network doesn’t have that problem. It can take what it wants and run clips for however long it desires. NFL GameDay Final’s highlights are a reflection of that. The show has suffered since Rich Eisen left, but the highlights are still the same and game segments can run as long as 4 minutes. If you haven’t watched a game, the best way to find what happened is to watch NFL GameDay Final. One of the best wrap up shows around.
Best Studio Host: The nominees are James Brown, CBS/Showtime; Curt Menefee, Fox; Dan Patrick, NBC; and Andrew Siciliano, DirecTV. Our winner is Dan Patrick, NBC. Dan has been the studio host of NBC’s Football Night in America since 2008. He’s gone from sharing the highlights with his former ESPN co-hort Keith Olbermann to now doing them all himself and he does them very smoothly. In addition, he had to break in two analysts who had little to no experience in TV and has helped guide Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison into two very strongly opinionated personalities. Dan will have a role on NBC’s Olympic coverage this year and based on his performance on Football Night in America over the last few years, he should do very well.
Best Studio Analyst: The nominees are Bill Cowher, CBS; Tony Dungy, NBC; Marshall Faulk, NFL Network; Howie Long, Fox; Steve Mariucci, NFL Network; and Michael Strahan, Fox. And completing the NBC perfecta, we go with Tony Dungy, NBC. Tony doesn’t yell, he doesn’t pound the table and he doesn’t dress outlandishly. All Tony does is give you opinions, provide excellent breakdowns and can show a little humor too. He’s grown to be one of the better studio analysts on TV without having to resort to gimmicks. His weekly appearances on the Dan Patrick Show are also quite enjoyable. Tony Dungy deserves the award this year.
Most Valuable Network: Our nominees for this category are Fox, NBC, and NFL Network. And the winner of the MVN for the 2011-12 season is NFL Network. For greatly improving its Thursday Night Football presentation both in the booth and in its production, plus seeing its best ratings ever for the package, we give the award to NFL Network. The higher ratings had everything to do with the wider distribution for the network, however, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable still remain holdouts. But without the two providers, NFL Network saw its best numbers ever for Thursday Night Football. NFL Network is the surprise winner this year.
Best NFL Insider: The nominees are John Clayton, ESPN; Mike Florio, NBC, Jay Glazer, Fox, Jason La Canfora, NFL Network; and Adam Schefter, ESPN. I’ll go with Adam Schefter of ESPN. While all of the insiders can each claim victories of breaking stories over one another, the one who seems to have been consistent all season has been Adam Schefter. I wanted to go with John Clayton and his ponytail, but I’ll give this to Schefter.
Best Announcing Team: The nominees are Marv Albert/Rich Gannon, CBS; Ian Eagle/Dan Fouts, CBS; Al Michaels/Cris Collinsworth, NBC; Jim Nantz/Phil Simms, CBS; Brad Nessler/Mike Mayock, NFL Network; and Sam Rosen/Brian Billick, Fox. And the winner of this award are “The Bird” and “The Beard”, Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts of CBS. They’ve worked together for two seasons and sound as if they’ve been doing it for six. They have great chemistry, good humor and know their roles. They rarely step on each other and make each game quite enjoyable. Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts of CBS are your winners of Best Announcing Team for this season.
Most Improved Presentation: Just two nominees for this category and they are Inside the NFL, Showtime and Thursday Night Football, NFL Network. The winner is Thursday Night Football, NFL Network. This has gone from being one of the worst produced and worst called packages to one of the best. After NFL Network jettisoned Matt Millen and Joe Theismann, Mike Mayock was brought in to replace them. And while Bob Papa was unfairly shown the door, Brad Nessler came in and clicked immediately with Mayock. And the problems that had plagued TNF in the past, late replays, garbled audio and all around bad production have gone as well. Replays are sharp, the picture seems much better than in the past and overall, the games have been quite enjoyable to watch. Thursday Night Football wins the award this season.
Best Game Coverage: The nominees are Monday Night Football, ESPN; NFL on Fox, Fox; Sunday Night Football, NBC; and Thursday Night Football, NFL Network. The winner is the NFL on Fox. Fox Sports’ announcers are a weak bunch, but their production people are among the best in sports. The HD quality is good, the replays are done well, I love when X-Mo is used to slow down a play to the point where I can see single blades of grass fly off the field. Fox does a great job on the NFL and the viewer is the beneficiary.
Rookie of the Year: The nominees are Jaime Maggio, Fox; Chad Pennington, Fox; and NFL Turning Point, Versus/NBC Sports Network. Our winner is Chad Pennington. I’ve been quite impressed with his work with Sam Rosen. Chad majored in Communications at Marshall knowing that he wanted to be in TV after his football career. Deciding to sit this season out to heal injuries, Pennington threw himself into TV with the same dedication of his playing days. He’s come off as well-spoken, well-informed and is becoming a very good analyst.
Best Debut: Only one nominee and I didn’t put this out originally. This goes to NFL Turning Point on Versus/NBC Sports Network. This show uses NFL Films footage plus takes advantage of wiring players for sound. What you have is a high quality show with lots of great football footage. This is not just a highlights show, this brings you inside the game, shows you the plays that turned a game around and explains how it happened. Very well produced by NFL Films.
Best Return to the NFL: Two nominees: Marv Albert, CBS and Melissa Stark, NFL Network. Nice to have both Marv and Melissa back, but Melissa’s return has been a part-time one. Marv’s is full-time so we’ll give this to Marv Albert of CBS Sports.
Best Move: The nominees are the Debut of NFL Turning Point, Versus; NFL Signing Long-Term TV Contracts with CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC; and Replacing Matt Millen and Joe Theismann with Mike Mayock, NFL Network. It has to be the NFL signing long-term TV contracts with all of its partners. The NFL gets about $5 billion per year starting in 2014. All of the networks keep their rights, divide three Super Bowls among CBS, Fox and NBC and ESPN gets into the postseason fray. Plus you’ll be able watch NFL games on your tablet soon. What’s better than that?
From the bests, we now move to the worsts.
Worst Play-by-Play: Our nominees are Thom Brennaman, Fox; Joe Buck, Fox; Bill Macatee, CBS; Ron Pitts, Fox; and Dick Stockton, Fox. This year’s award goes to Dick Stockton of Fox Sports. I hate giving this award to Dick as he’s had a great career calling MLB, NBA, NCAA, NFL and the Olympics, but the slippage over the last three years is too big to ignore. He’s miscalled plays, mixed up players and even forgot what city he’s in. Yes, it happens to everyone, but this is consistently occurring every week. He takes this award by a narrow margin over Thom Brennaman.
Worst Game Analyst: The nominees are Steve Beuerlein, CBS; Randy Cross, CBS; and Jim Mora, Jr., formerly of Fox. We go with Randy Cross. He’s only called a handful of games, but here’s a guy who was once the number two analyst at CBS and NBC, but he’s been exiled to the “F” or “G” games with Don Criqui. I honestly don’t know what he’s seeing on the field anymore.
Worst Studio Host: Your nominees are Chris Berman, ESPN and Stuart Scott, ESPN. And your runaway winner this season is Chris Berman. He used to be a must-see when ESPN started airing the NFL as host of Sunday NFL Countdown and NFL Primetime, but he’s now a mere caricature of himself. The “whoop!” or “He! Could! Go! All! The! Way!” or “Nobody circles the wagons … Like! The Buffalo Bills!” act is very tired. It’s time to bring Trey Wingo or Suzy Kolber or even Stuart Scott to the table to replace him. Chris should be put to pasture now.
Worst Studio Analyst: The nominees are Tedy Bruschi, ESPN; Cris Carter, ESPN; Michael Irvin, NFL Network; Eric Mangini, ESPN; and Shannon Sharpe, CBS. This is my Cleveland Browns bias showing but this goes to Eric
Manmoron Mangini of ESPN. There are those who love the way Mangini breaks down plays on NFL Live and other ESPN studio shows, but I don’t see it. Perhaps I can separate my hatred for Mangini over his coaching of the Browns in 20 years, but right now, I can’t see him doing this for long.
Worst Studio Show: Your nominees are Monday Night Countdown, ESPN; NFL 32, ESPN; Sunday NFL Countdown, ESPN. This is a clean ESPN sweep in this category and we go with NFL 32. This is supposed to be a comprehensive look at all 32 NFL teams with highlights, tweets and snark thrown in. This is an abortion. I hope ESPN goes back to the drawing board and revamps this show. It needs it. The debut of the show looked as if it was thrown together at the last minute. The show hasn’t improved much since.
Worst Move: Original nominees were Bob Costas’ Halftime Commentary on Sunday Night Football, NBC; Removing Rich Eisen from NFL Total Access; and Putting Michael Irvin on Thursday Night Football Pregame, NFL Network. I add one more nominee, ESPN’s rotation of sideline reporters for Monday Night Football. And that is your winner. There was no consistency on the sideline for MNF. This year, it was either Suzy Kolber, Sal Paolantonio, Ed Werder, Rachel Nichols and then the strange cameo of John Sutcliffe (more on that later). While ESPN has de-emphasized the sideline reporter on the NFL coverage the last couple of seasons, it still needs a reporter in case of an injury or a development. It’s best if you have the same person every week. Suzy is good or if not, Sal Pal or even Rachel Nichols. Anyone. Just don’t rotate.
Worst Debut: John Sutcliffe, ESPN. A popular personality on ESPN Deportes and Monday Night Football sideline reporter on that network since 2006, the Mothership brought him over to make his English language debut for the Week 15 game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers. The game was between two 10-3 teams and it so happened it was also the night that the lights went out at Candlestick Park. While that event could not be foreseen, it was obvious that being on the big stage for ESPN overwhelmed Sutcliffe. He was nervous, he came off unprepared and ESPN stopped using him after a shaky report just after halftime. ESPN PR people have told me that John is one of the most professional people at ESPN Deportes and I don’t doubt that. But that was the wrong game to make his debut.
And that concludes this year’s NFL TV Awards.